Discover Portovenere Italy: A Secret Cinque Terre Gem!

Portovenere Italy is a treasure (in plain sight!) along Italy’s Ligurian coast in the province of La Spezia. Even with its UNESCO World Heritage Site recognition, many travelers focus their sights on the nearby Cinque Terre and its popular hiking trails and villages.

Yet, if you dare to go left when everyone else goes right, you just might find one of the most charming towns in the Italian Riviera.

Instead of spending just 1 day in the Cinque Terre before zipping off to another part of Italy, plan a Portovenere day trip to explore this beautiful, historic seaside village, perfectly situated in the Gulf of Poets.

Describing Portovenere (or Porto Venere) as a picturesque fishing village in the region of Liguria doesn’t come close to capturing the magnetism of this small town. In fact, Portovenere is one of the best places in the area to experience the history, culture, food, natural landscapes, and seaside vibes of the Italian Riviera.

And, it accomplishes all of this without the crowds that come with the famous Cinque Terre.

In this guide, discover the best things to do in Portovenere, as well as helpful logistics to make planning your time in Portovenere smooth and spectacular.

The Best Things to do in Portovenere Italy

Portovenere Italy Harbor

Indulge in the Romance of Portovenere Harbor.

Your first glimpse of Portovenere will be of the harbor with its turquoise water and bright, colorful houses.

It’s nearly impossible not to get swept up in the romantic harbor views as you arrive in Portovenere. But the village’s architecture was also part of its defense dating back to the Middle Ages and possibly even earlier. The attached houses and buildings protected the village from enemies who might arrive by sea once night had fallen.

Today, the harbor is a great spot to stroll, shop, have lunch, or grab a gelato. You’ll have seaside views, a prime spot to people watch, and a tranquil (compared to the Cinque Terre) atmosphere to soak up the Ligurian vibes.

On every wave and rocky outcropping, there are stories of local life unfolding. Spend time refueling and refreshing or just laze away under the Italian Riviera sun.

Stroll through the Porta Del Borgo and along the Medieval Streets.

Via Capellini Portovenere Italy

In Portovenere today, there aren’t any signs of any seafaring villains. But luckily, its medieval charm remains.

Begin from the Porta del Borgo, the ancient city gate that once was locked every night. Via Capellini is the main street just beyond the gate leading to today’s shops, eateries, and historic sights. (By the way, could there be a more perfect name for an Italian street than Via Capellini??)

Stop at some of the family-run artisan businesses along Via Capellini to taste homemade pesto or find one-of-a-kind, handmade, sea-inspired pieces of jewelry to bring back home.

Then, veer off onto one of the quiet cobblestone passageways and you’ll instantly be transported from a bustling avenue of visitors to flower-filled terra cotta pots lining the steps of the local homes.

One of the things that make the village special is, even with just 1 day in Portovenere, you’ll have time to explore Porto Venere’s historical sights, take in the sea views from nature trails up above Portovenere’s harbor, and make discoveries along its quieter lanes.

Explore Doria Castle (Castello Doria).

Doria Castel Portovenere Italy

Dating back to the 12th Century, Doria Castle sits in a commanding position high above colorful Portovenere. It was once a fortress, and part of the Republic of Genoa, used for military purposes.

The uphill walk is well worth it, even if only for the spectacular vantage point over the sparkling Bay of Poets. 

The castle costs 5 Euros to enter, and although parts of the space have been outfitted to accommodate public performances and private events, you can climb and explore the different levels and walk along the steep, sloping walls.

Castle Doria might not be as perfectly preserved some of the ruins in Rome. But, seeing it helps you understand the history of Portovenere with its strategic position along the Mediterranean Sea.

Muse over the Views at Byron’s Grotto (Grotta di Byron).

Byron's Grotto Porto Venere Italy

Getting its name from the famous British poet, Lord Byron, this cave and rocky area along the Ligurian Coast are surrounded by the aquamarine waters of the Mediterranean Sea and just steps from the narrow medieval streets of Portovenere’s old town.

Swoon over the amazing view from the top of the rocky steps. Or better yet, follow the path down the steps towards the crystal clear green-blue water for sunbathing and swimming. If you decide to spend more than just the day in Portovenere, Byron’s Cave at sunset is unforgettable.

Do Not Miss Seeing the Church of San Pietro (Chiesa di San Pietro)!

Church of San Pietro Porto Venere Italy

San Pietro Church sits on one of the most dazzling spots in all of Liguria and reminded me of some of the landscapes in Puglia. The rocky outcrop on which the church was built overlooks the sweeping Italian coastline and the azure waters of the Mediterranean. Byron’s Grotto is just before the church on the right.

The striped Genoese section of the church dates back to the 13th century, while the original sections were built a hundred years before.

Inside, the church is aptly poetic in its simplicity. Explore the church and its location from every possible angle for the sea and village views. It’s a not-to-be-missed spot in Portovenere!

Discover the Church of San Lorenzo (Santuario Della Madonna Bianca).

Church of San Lorenzo Portovenere Italy

Just below Doria Castle, the Chiesa di San Lorenzo is a Romanesque structure with Gothic elements added during subsequent restorations. The church sits in a quiet spot, near a small park that offers pretty views of the Church of San Pietro on the tip of the promontory and Portovenere harbor below.

San Lorenzo Church is home to the painting of the White Madonna, said to heal the village of the plague in 1399 after its paint colors brightened upon hearing the prayers of a villager. Since then, it’s brought Catholic pilgrims who want to pray and be near the miraculous relic.

Hike in Portovenere Regional Nature Park.

Cliffside trail Porto Venere Italy

This 900+ acre nature reserve encompasses Portovenere, the nearby islands of Palmaria, Tino, and Tinetto, and the protected marine areas in the Gulf of Poets. You can easily spend an adventurous day on the park’s hiking trails, biking, climbing, or boating.

Spend time exploring the area’s rocky cliffs, grottos, beaches, and unspoiled vegetation, all while taking in sea views.

And even if you don’t have time to enjoy the park to its fullest, there is a trail that skirts behind Castle Doria and up onto the cliffs along the sea. It will be an uphill walk but you won’t have to go far before reaching a vantage point that spans the castle’s magnificent walls and round turret, as well as the bluff where the Church of San Pietro sits.

Visit the Island of Palmaria.

A piece of Palmaria Island is on the right side of this photo.

Palmaria Island is a triangle-shaped island just across from Portovenere, separated from the Church of San Pietro by just a small strait. It’s the largest of 3 islands in the Gulf of La Spezia.

The boat trip from Portovenere harbor is just 5 minutes. Palmaria Island is also included in Portovenere’s UNESCO World Heritage Site designation.

Despite how close it is to Portovenere, Palmaria Island feels miles away from the day-trippers in Portovenere and the crowds in the villages of the Cinque Terre.

The island is part of the Portovenere Regional Natural Park, with hiking and e-biking trails allowing you to explore the island’s natural landscape. From around the island, take in the spectacular views over the sea, as well as looking back at the Church of San Pietro and Portovenere harbor.

Palmaria Island also has sea caves like Grotta Azzurra and Grotta dei Colombi, as well as the best beaches in Portovenere, including beach clubs with amenities if you’re hoping for a relaxing day at the beach.

Sunbathe and Swim like a Ligurian.

Rocky cliffs of Portovenere Italy

Even if you don’t have time for a full day of beach lounging, you can still enjoy the Mediterranean sun and water!

From the harbor to the rocky outcroppings scattered around the town, local Ligurians love to lie on the rocks to soak up the sun before jumping into the crystal clear waters to swim and cool off.

If you’d like to join in, be sure to bring a towel and wear your swimsuit under your clothes. There aren’t any formal changing rooms or beach areas but rather naturally carved out areas where you can relax and enjoy the water. Just be careful as there are no lifeguards on duty.

How to get to Portovenere

Narrow staircase in Portovenere Italy

There is no train service to Portovenere like there is to the Cinque Terre villages. This is one of the reasons Portovenere gets overlooked.

However, you can easily get there by car, boat, taxi, or bus from La Spezia. (La Spezia is a popular base for exploring Liguria’s seaside towns, including the Cinque Terre, because of its public transportation links and more affordable hotels.)

I drove the scenic winding road from La Spezia to Portovenere. The drive is simple and takes about 15 minutes depending on the traffic.

If you’re planning a visit by car in peak summer season, and especially on a weekend, arrive in the morning to avoid parking challenges.

As you approach the town, there is parking alongside the road. These parking areas are designated in different zones, 1, 2, or, 3. There are parking pay machines conveniently located in several places along the road.

The hourly rate depends on the zone in which you park. The closer you park to Porto Venere, the higher the hourly rate will be. You’ll need to pay for a set amount of hours and display the receipt on your dashboard.

There’s also 1 main parking garage at the end of the road just before arriving in the town. It’ll be the first (and only) sign you see for a paid underground parking lot.

The ferry from La Spezia to Portovenere is also a great option, especially if your car is already parked there and you don’t want to move it.

ProTip: Driving and parking in Liguria can be extremely frustrating. Even in a base town like La Spezia, parking is tough to come by. So, if you have your car parked in La Spezia, keep it there and make use of the public transportation options as much as possible to move around the area.

Are there Portovenere Tours?

Overlooking the Mediterranean Sea in Portovenere Italy

If you prefer to explore Portovenere and the Italian Riviera with a guide, there are tours that include time in Portovenere in combination with the Cinque Terre, as well as activities like biking and boating that can be done with a guide.

Porto Venere Hotels

Portovenere Italy harbor

The Grand Hotel Portovenere is a 5-star boutique hotel conveniently located overlooking the picturesque harbor. The hotel is just a couple of minutes’ walk from the historic center of town and an absolutely beautiful place to base yourself in Portovenere.

Nearly every room comes with a terrace, balcony, or French windows with views of the sea or the village. This hotel also offers parking, which is a must no matter which accommodation you choose in Portovenere.

You could also easily base yourself in La Spezia where you’ll find a greater variety of hotels in a range of budget options.

Check current prices in Portovenere | Check current prices in La Spezia

Is it possible to see Portovenere and the Cinque Terre in 1 day?

Yes, it’s technically possible because the ferry from Portovenere also goes to 4 of the 5 Cinque Terre villages. And once you’re in the Cinque Terre, you also have the train to get around.

However, I would not recommend this.

The Cinque Terre is busy and comes with plenty to see and do on its own. And part of Portovenere’s charm is its laid-back atmosphere. At best, it would be a fast-paced, even frenzied, day trying to fit everything in while trying to time the ferry and train perfectly to hop between the 6 towns.

For a summertime visit, factor in, too, the Cinque Terre crowds and hot temperatures. You’ll absolutely need time to just sit by the sea to refuel and refresh. And, be sure you’ve got all the most important Cinque Terre tips before you visit.

A better plan is to spend a day in Cinque Terre and a day in Portovenere…and more if you can spare it because there are really never enough days in the Italian Riviera!

Would you like to visit Portovenere Italy?

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